Agenda item

Questions

The Joint Leader of the Council, or the Chair of any Committee or Sub-Committee, to take any questions that may be submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

Minutes:

The Council considered the following questions submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.

 

Question No. 1

Question From:

Councillor Lewing

Question To:

Councillor Stafford, Chair of Environment Committee

Question:

Since the City Council declared a biodiversity emergency in 2020, what action has been taken in Worcester to increase the number of pollinators (including bumblebees, solitary bees and honeybees), which have seen a national decline of up to 30% in recent years?

Answer:

In 2020 the wildflower programme was started with seven sites. This was doubled in 2021 due to the positive reaction it received. This year, we have worked closely with the Worcester Environmental Group to create natural wildflower meadows. This has resulted in an abundance of native wildflowers such as poppies and cornflowers as well as rarer species such as the southern marsh orchid, providing a natural habitat for pollinators as well as supporting the broader wildlife species in the area.

 

We are also working in partnership with the County Council, creating pollinator corridors along highways through reducing grass cutting, and our Allotments Officer is supporting tenants in creating wildlife areas within their allotments.

 

We’re also working closely with the Worcester Environmental Group and Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, who will be launching a new 12 mile wildlife corridor around the city next Spring, designed to attract more butterflies, bees, birds, bats and other forms of wildlife.

Supplementary Question:

What can Councillors do to boost biodiversity further within their own Wards please?

Answer:

We would like to expand the number of uncut grass verges and wildflower sites next year. All Councillors are encouraged to come forward with suggestions for new locations in their Ward, so that we can continue to increase pollinator numbers. Councillors who wish to be involved in developing areas within their wards should contact Mark Baylis, who will arrange an initial site visit - I’m referring to the Mark Baylis who’s got a long track record in enhancing the city, rather than Councillor Marc Bayliss.

Question No. 2

Question From:

Councillor Barnes

Question To:

Councillor Riaz, Chair of Communities Committee

Question:

Councillors are hearing that there is a rise in unregulated Airbnb properties in Worcester and are concerned about the possible impact on our housing market.  Does the Chair have any evidence of this and what the total number of such properties might be?

Answer:

The Council does not have any evidence or intelligence to suggest that there has been a rise in the use of Airbnb properties in Worcester or that Airbnbs are having a significant impact on the housing market. There is no requirement for individuals wishing to offer their homes for short term lets through Airbnb or another platform to register their property with the private sector housing team or to seek planning permission, and therefore they would not ordinarily be highlighted by the Council.

 

A search of properties registering on Airbnb in Worcester indicates approximately 173 properties that are registered, of which 112 are available for sole occupation and therefore aren’t shared with the owners.  This figure is likely to fluctuate depending on availability and does not necessarily mean that all of those properties are otherwise vacant. However, some as owners may move out temporarily to facilitate guests, to access the property, or may be out of the City for periods of time.

 

Supplementary Question:

That’s somewhat reassuring, however like HMOs there is a possibility that some Airbnbs could become substandard, semi-permanent  accommodation. So, I ask the following - could Communities Committee keep a watching brief as the sector expands?

Answer:

I’ll take away Councillor Barnes’ questions and discuss with Officers what options we have. As I said earlier, there isn’t a requirement for Airbnbs to register at the moment, but if Members are finding that it’s having a significant impact in their Wards, we’ll certainly take that up through the Communities brief.

Question No. 3

Question From:

Councillor Stephen (on behalf of Councillor Bisset)

Question To:

Councillor Stanley, Chair of Personnel and General Purposes Sub-Committee

Question:

Could the Chair of Personnel and General Purposes Sub-Committee confirm that he is happy to consult with local SEN and learning disability charities to establish how the Council can work with them to ensure that people with a learning disability living in the city are not unfairly disadvantaged by the introduction of mandatory photographic Voter IDs at the next local elections in May 2023?  

Answer:

From May 2023, individuals who wish to vote in person, including those acting as a proxy on behalf of another individual, will be required to produce an accepted form of photographic ID to prove their identity before they will be issued with a ballot paper. There is a wide range of acceptable IDs.

 

The Electoral Commission recognises that this is a significant change and is due to begin a national publicity campaign regarding Voter ID in January of next year. The Commission is working closely with civil society organisations to produce tailored communications resources for specific audiences.

 

The Returning Officer will produce a public engagement strategy to promote the new requirements for electors to vote at their polling station, taking into account the Council’s recently published Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. Council officers will work with stakeholders across the city, including SEN and learning charities, to share the resources produced by the Electoral Commission to ensure all those eligible to vote are able to do so in May 2023.

Supplementary Question:

I appreciate the answer that you’ve given, obviously there’s going to be a lot of work being done to try and support people who don’t have a driving licence or passport and so on. I can imagine there’s going to be quite a lot of additional work for Council Officers to do this. My question is – will you work with Council officers to make sure they have got  the resources and staffing necessary to make sure the changes are being done in such a way that is satisfactory to the Worcester residents?

Answer:

The short answer is yes, I’m more than happy as Chair of the Committee to work with Officers to produce outcomes we all seek in this, I acknowledge the importance of this, I know that many people will become concerned as polling day approaches. I think it’s beholden on us as a Council to make sure we do everything we can to smooth the path on this, so happy to give an update as and when required.